Safe Plants for Donkeys

Safe Plants for Donkeys

Apples Photo:

It’s great to give donkeys access to a wide range of plants and herbs in addition to their main diet. It can have numerous health benefits and mirrors how they feed in the wild. Donkeys enjoy foraging and they are mostly pretty good at finding the nutrients they need.  

The safety of plants is not straightforward though, as many donkey owners will know. Plants listed here as Safe may only be suitable for donkeys in small quantities – as extras to the diet. Some plants are common feed for donkeys and mostly problem-free – but with some instances of toxicity. Others are just plain poisonous!

The level of risk associated with plants varies depending on climate, region, plant growth stage, pasture management, harvesting methods, plant species, part and amount eaten and the condition of the donkey. This list is not comprehensive and is intended only as a basic guide.

DISCLAIMER: I am not a qualified equine nutritionist or veterinarian. The information in this blog post should only be used in conjunction with professional advice. The safety of plants for any individual donkey depends upon a wide range of factors.  


SAFE = Plants that are non-toxic and safe in appropriate quantities

CAUTION = Plants that can be harmful in certain circumstances  

UNSAFE = Plants that are poisonous and should be avoided entirely

Acanthus Family – Acanthaceae

SAFE: Firecracker Flower, Nerve Plant, Polka Dot Plant, Zebra Plant

Aloe Family – Asphodelaceae

SAFE: Haworthia fasciata, Red Hot Poker

CAUTION: Aloe Vera (outer leaf is toxic, clear gel inside used topically to treat wounds and skin conditions)

UNSAFE: Dune Onion Weed

Amaryllis Family – Amaryllidaceae

CAUTION: Garlic (can cause anaemia, long-term use in raw or dried form unsafe, even in small quantities)

UNSAFE: Amaryllis, Barbados / Easter Lily, Belladonna Lily, Chinese Onion, Chives, Daffodil (all), Elephant Garlic, Fire / Kaffir Lily, Hippeastrum (all), Leek, Onion, Pearl Onion, Scallion, Shallot (all Allium genus), Spider Lily (all), Snowdrop

Araucarians – Araucariaceae

SAFE: Norfolk / Norfolk Island Pine

Arrowgrass Family – Juncaginaceae

UNSAFE: Arrowgrass / Seaside Arrowgrass

Arrowroot Family – Marantaceae

SAFE: Caeroba / Rattlesnake Plant, Calathea (all)

Arum Family – Araceae

SAFE: Carrion Flower

UNSAFE: Adam-and-Eve / Lords-and-Ladies, Alocasia (all), Arrow-head Vine, Arum Lily, Caladium, Ceriman / Swiss-cheese Flower, Chinese Evergreen, Devil’s Ivy, Dumb Cane, Elephant’s Ear (all), Flamingo Flower, Philodendron (all), Jack-in-the-Pulpit, Oleander, Peace Lily / Black Calla, Satin Pothos / Silver Vine, Selloum, Skunk Cabbage, Solomon’s Lily

Asparagus Family – Asparagaceae

SAFE: Cast-iron Plant, Cushion Aloe, Elephant’s Foot, Grape Hyacinth, Song of India, Spider Plant, Palm Lily, Sand Lily, Galtonia, Lily Turf

CAUTION: Hawaiian Ti Plant / Cabbage Palm / Good Luck Plant (high in sugar)

UNSAFE: Asparagus / Foxtail Fern, Chinkerinchee, Common Hyacinth, Dracaena / Corn Plant / Dragon Tree (all), Lily-of-the-Valley, Ornithogalums (all), Plantain Lily / Hosta, Pregnant Onion, Star-of-Bethlehem, Yucca (all)

Balsam Family – Balsaminaceae

SAFE: Touch-me-not

Banana Family – Musaceae

SAFE: Banana / Plantain (all)

Barberry Family – Berberidaceae

SAFE: Oregon Grape

UNSAFE: American Mandrake / May-apple, Nandina / Heavenly Bamboo

Beech and Oak Family – Fagaceae

SAFE: Algaroba / Mesquite / Kiawe, American Chestnut, Chestnut / Sweet Chestnut

UNSAFE: Oak (all)

Beet / Amaranth Family – Amaranthaceae

SAFE: Beetroot, Bloodleaf, Chard, Cockscombs, Globe Amaranth, Mangel Beet, Spinach, Spinach Beet, Woolflowers

CAUTION: Quinoa (too high in protein), Sugar Beet (too high in sugar in raw form but safe when processed and unmolassed)

UNSAFE: Gomphrena Weed, Jerusalem Oak

Begonia Family – Begoniaceae

UNSAFE: Begonia, Elephant’s Ear Begonia, Iron Cross Begonia, Maple Leaf Begonia, Metallic Leaf Begonia, Rex Begonia

Bellflower Family – Campanulaceae

UNSAFE: Cardinal Flower, Lobelia (all)

Bindweed / Morning Glory Family – Convolvulaceae

SAFE: Sweet Potato

UNSAFE: Field / Common Bindweed

Birch Family – Betulaceae

SAFE: Alder, Birch, Hazel, Hornbeam

Bird of Paradise Family – Strelitziaceae

UNSAFE: Bird of Paradise

Bittersweet Family – Celastraceae

UNSAFE: Bittersweet / American Bittersweet, Burning Bush / American Wahoo, Spindle Tree

Borage / Forget-me-not Family – Boraginaceae

CAUTION: Common Comfrey (leaves used in herbal remedies in very small quantities, most toxic in root, long-term use not advised)

UNSAFE: Chinese Hound’s Tongue / Chinese Forget-me-not, Fiddlenecks (all), Heliotrope, Paterson’s Curse, Viper’s Bugloss

Boxwood Family – Buxaceae

UNSAFE: Boxwood / Box

Bracken Family – Dennstaedtiaceae

UNSAFE: Bracken / Bracken Fern (all)

Buckthorn Family – Rhamnaceae

UNSAFE: Buckthorn

Buttercup / Crowfoot Family – Ranunculaceae

CAUTION: Buttercup (safe unless consumed in very large quantities), Monkshood / Wolf’s Bane (toxic in raw form but safe when dried, used in herbal remedies)

UNSAFE:  Celandine / Pilewort, Celery-leaf / Poison / Cursed Buttercup, Christmas Rose / Black Hellebore, Hellebore, Clematis / Leather Flower, Columbine, Delphinium / Larkspur (all), Small-fruit Pheasant’s Eye / Red Chamomile

Cabbage / Mustard Family – Brassicaceae

CAUTION: Broccoli, Brussel Sprouts, Cabbage (White, Red, Savoy), Collard Greens, Kale, Pennycress, Radish, Swede / Rutabaga, Turnip, Watercress (large quantities of any of these can cause colic)

UNSAFE: Alyssum, Cauliflower, Charlock / Field Mustard, Hoary Alyssum, Winter-cress / Yellow Rocket

Cactus Family – Cactaceae

SAFE: Christmas / Holiday Cactus, Easter Lily Cactus / Hedgehog Cactus, Mistletoe Cactus, Old Man Cactus, Prickly Pear, Pitaya / Dragon Fruit

Caltrop Family – Zygophyllaceae

SAFE: Creosote Bush / Greasewood

Cannabis / Hemp Family – Cannabaceae

SAFE: African Arrowroot / Indian Shot, Canna Lily

UNSAFE: Marijuana / Indian Hemp

Carnation Family – Caryophyllaceae

SAFE: Moss Campion / Cushion Pink

CAUTION: Baby’s Breath / Maiden’s Breath (can irritate the skin), Chickweed (unsafe in large quantities)

UNSAFE: Carnation, Corncockle, Sweet William / Eastern Star

Carrot Family – Apiaceae 

Note: Several plants in this family are toxic to donkeys, and some share the same or similar common names, such as Bishop’s Weed, so Latin names included for clarity. 

SAFE: Celery, Chervil / Garden Chervil / French Parsley, Coriander / Cilantro / Chinese Parsley / Dhania, Cow Parsley, Dill, Parsnip

CAUTION: Aniseed, Dill (safe in small quantities), Aegopodium podagraria – Bishop’s Weed / Ground Elder / Goutweed / Gout Wort / Herb Gerard / Snow-in-the-Mountain / Wild Masterwort (midly toxic, can cause phototoxicity), Parsley / Garden Parsley (not suitable for pregnant mares)

UNSAFE: Ammi visnagaBishop’s Weed / Bisnaga / Khella / Toothpickweed, Ammi majus – Bishop’s Weed / Bullwort / False Bishop’s Weed / False Queen Anne’s Lace / Bishop’s Flower / Greater Ammi / Laceflower / Lady’s Lace, Daucus carota – Bird’s Nest / Bishop’s Lace / Queen Anne’s Lace / Wild Carrot, Caraway / Meridian Fennel / Persian Cumin, Cow Parsnip, Hemlock / Poison Hemlock, Lovage, Spring Parsley, Water Hemlock / Cowbane, Trachyspermum ammi – Ajowan Caraway / Bishop’s Weed / Carom

Cashew / Sumac Family – Anacardiaceae

SAFE: Poison Ivy, Poison / Pacific / Western Oak, Staghorn Sumac

CAUTION: Mango (stones contain poisonous substances)

Citrus Family – Rutaceae

SAFE: Sweet Orange, Lemon

UNSAFE: Bergamot Orange / Citrus Bergami, Calamondin Orange, Key / Mexican Lime, Rangpur

Cleome Family – Cleomaceae 

SAFE: Spider Flower / Pink Queen

Coffee Family – Rubiaceae

SAFE: Jungle Geranium / Flame of the Woods

UNSAFE: Button Bush, Coffee / Coffea, Gardenia / Cape Jasmine

Cycas Family – Cycadaceae

UNSAFE: Cycad, Sago Palm / Japanese Sago Palm / Sago Cycad

Cypress Family – Cupressaceae

UNSAFE: Juniper, Leylandii / Leyland Cypress

Daisy / Sunflower Family – Asteraceae

SAFE: African / Gerber Daisy, Artichoke, Blessed Thistle, Blue Daisy, Blue Globe-thistle, Calendula Officinalis / English Marigold, Calliopsis / Tickseed, Carline Thistle, China Aster, Common / Field Thistle, Cornflower, Cotton / Scotch Thistle, Creeping Zinnia, Distall Thistle, Feverfew, Golden / Oyster Thistle, Lettuce, Milk Thistle, Musk Thistle, Sow Thistle, Townsend Daisy, Purple Passion, Candyleaf / Sweetleaf / Sugarleaf, Narrowleaf Sunflower, Southernwood, Sow Thistle, Sunflower, Syrian Thistle, Zinnia

CAUTION: Chamomile (safe in small quantities, used in herbal remedies), Chicory, Common Dandelion (unsafe in large quantities), Common / English Daisy (low toxicity, safe in small quantities, used in herbal remedies), Flatweed / Cat’s Ear (unsafe in large quantities), Gumweed (safe in small quantities), Smooth Flatweed / Cat’s Ear (unsafe in large quantities)

UNSAFE: Arnica / Mountain Arnica, Aspen Fleabane, Chrysanthemum, Crofton Weed / Sticky Snakeroot, Dahlia, Dogfennel, Horseweed / Fleabane, Madagascar Ragwort / Fireweed, Mistflower / Creeping Crofton Weed, Ragwort / Golden Ragwort, Rayless Goldenrod / Rosea / Jimmy Weed, Rough / Common Cocklebur, Russian Knapweed, Spiny Cocklebur / Prickly Burweed, Stinking Chamomile / Poison Daisy / Mayweed, White Snakeroot, Yarrow, Yellow Star / St. Barnaby’s Thistle

Dayflower / Spiderwort Family – Commelinaceae

UNSAFE: Wandering Jew / River Spiderwort

Dogbane Family – Apocynaceae

SAFE: Confederate Jasmine, Madagascar Jasmine, Natal Plum, Porcelain Flower, Starfish Flower, Hoya Kerii

UNSAFE: Bigleaf / Blue Periwinkle, Desert Azalea, Dogbane / Bitterroot, Milkweed (all), Oleander, Periwinkle, Purple Rubber Vine, Rubber Vine, Yellow Oleander

Dogwood Family – Cornaceae

SAFE: Dogwood

Ebony Family – Ebenaceae

SAFE: Persimmons

Fern Family – Polypodiaceae

SAFE: Carrot Fern / Sichuan Lace / Elkhorn / Staghorn Fern

Figwort Family

CAUTION: Spotted Fuchsia (prone to toxicity)

Flame-lily Family – Colchicaceae

UNSAFE: Meadow Saffron / Autumn Crocus

Flax Family – Linaceae

UNSAFE: Blue / Lewis / Prairie flax

Four O’clock Family – Nyctaginaceae

SAFE: Fragrant / Sweet-sand Verbena

Gentian Family – Gentianaceae

SAFE: Giant Sword Fern, Persian Violet

Geranium Family – Geraniaceae

SAFE: Geranium / Crane’s Bill

Gesnaria Family – Gesneriaceae

SAFE: African Violet / Cape Marigold, Candy Corn / Goldfish Plant, Canterbury Bells, Cape Primrose, Gloxinia, Lace-flower Vine, Lipstick Plant

Ginger Family – Zingiberaceae

SAFE: Cardamon (Elettaria cardamomum), Galangal Ginger (Zingiber officinale), Ginger Lily, White Ginger / White Garland Lily, Kaempferia, Turmeric (Curcuma longa

Gooseberry Family – Grossulariaceae

SAFE: Blackcurrant, Gooseberry, Jostaberry, Redcurrant

Gourd / Squash Family – Cucurbitaceae

SAFE: Acorn / Pepper Squash, Arikara Squash, Banana Squash, Bostom Marrow, Butternut Squash / Butternut Pumpkin, Courgette / Zucchini, Crookneck Squash, Cucumber, Pumpkin (don’t use seeds packaged for planting), Figleaf Squash, Honeydew Melon, Hubbard Squash, Muskmelon / Cantaloupe, Persian Melon, Santa Claus Melon, Summer Squash, Turban Squash, Watermelon, West Indian Gherkin / Maroon Cucumber

UNSAFE: White Byrony / White Hop

Grape Family – Viticeae

SAFE: Grape, Grape Ivy

Grass Family – Poaceae

SAFE: Annual Meadow Grass, Barley, Blue Grama, Bluegrass, Bluestem, Browntop / Common Bent, Brome, Brown-top, Coastal Bermuda, Crabgrass, Crested Dog’s-tail, Gamagrass, Golden Bamboo, Indian Ricegrass, Kangaroo, Meadow Fescue, Orchard Grass / Cocksfoot, Pampas, Pearl Millet, Red Fescue, Redgrass, Rhodes, Sand Lovegrass, Spear, Spelt, Timothy, Weeping Lovegrass, Wheatgrass, Wild Emmer / Farro, Wild Rice, Yorkshire Fog 

Note: Safety of grass for pasture and forage can depend on pasture management, harvesting methods and environmental factors.

CAUTION: African Star Grass, Annual Beard-grass, Annual Ryegrass, Common Blown-grass / Fairy Grass and Common Couch Grass (prone to toxicity), Corn / Maize (high in starch and cobs are hard to digest), Dhoob / Bahama / Bermuda Grass (prone to toxicity), Linseed / Flaxseed (toxic in raw form, safe once heat processed), Native Couch Grass (prone to toxicity), Oat (don’t let grass go to seed, grain high in protein), Paspalum, Perennial Ryegrass and Reed Canary Grass / Phalaris (prone to toxicity), Scutch Grass, Tall Fescue (prone to toxicity), Teff (testing of sugar level advised), Triticale (prone to toxicity, high in protein), Wheat (don’t let grass go to seed, grain high in protein) 

UNSAFE: Blue Canary Grass, Brachiaria / Signal, Broughton Pea, Buffel, Columbus Grass, Coolah Grass, Crabgrass, Dwarf Darling Pea, Foxtails (sharp seed heads), Grain Sorghum, Grey Swainsona, Castilla, Hairy Darling Pea, Harding Grass, Indiangrass, Johnson Grass, Kikuyu, Lemongrass / Oil Grass, Pangola, Panic Grass (Giant, Coolah, Guinea / Green, Millet, Switch), Para, Paradoxa Grass, Purple pigeon grass, Sideoats Grama, Smooth Darling Pea, Sorghum (all), South African pigeon grass, Sudangrass, Sweet Vernal, Tanganyika

Greenbrier Family – Smilacaceae

SAFE: Bamboo Vine / Laurel Greenbrier, Greenbrier (all), Prickly Ivy, Smooth Carrion Flower

Heather Family – Ericaceae

SAFE: Blueberry, Cranberry, Grouseberry, Heather, Salal / Shallon

UNSAFE: Andromeda / Fetter Bush (all), Bog Laurel / Swamp Laurel, Doghobble (all), Japanese Andromeda / Pieris, Maleberry / He-huckleberry, Mountain Laurel / Spoonwood, Rhododendron / Azalea, Sheep Laurel

Holly Family – Aquifoliaceae

UNSAFE: Holly / Common / English Holly, American Holly, Cardinal Flower

Honeysuckle Family – Caprifoliaceae

SAFE: Valerian Root

Horsetail Family – Equisetaceae

UNSAFE: Horsetail (all)

Hydrangea Family – Hydrangeaceae

SAFE: Slender Deutzia

CAUTION: Mountain Hydrangea (unsafe in large quantities)

UNSAFE: Annabelle Hydrangea, Bigleaf Hydrangea, Smooth Hydrangea / Hortensia

Iris Family – Iridaceae

UNSAFE: Gladiola / Sword Lily, Iris (all), One-leaf Cape Tulip, Two-leaf Cape Tulip

Ivy / Aralia Family – Araliaceae

SAFE: False Aralia

UNSAFE: Angelica Tree / Prickly Elder (Aralia elata), Australian Ivy Palm, Branching Ivy, Common / English Ivy, Geranium Aralia / Coffee Tree, Persian Ivy (Hedera colchica), Wild Hydrangea

Knotweed / Buckwheat Family – Polygonaceae

SAFE: Black-bindweed / Wild Buckwheat, Desert Trumpet

UNSAFE: Common / Japanese / Silverhull Buckwheat, Rhubarb, Common / Garden Sorrel

Laurel FamilyLauraceae

CAUTION: True Cynnamon (Cinnamomum verum), Ceylon Cinnamon Tree / Sassafras, Chinese cynnamon (Cinnamomum cassia) (plants from the Cinnamomum family contain eugenols, which are toxic in high concentrations)

UNSAFE: Avocado / Alligator Pear, Camphor Tree / Laurel, Bay / Black Laurel / Laurel Tree

Leadwort / Plumbago Family – Plumbaginaceae

SAFE: Chinese Plumbago

Legume / Pea Family – Fabaceae

SAFE: Carob Tree / Locust Bean, Common / Green / Haricot Bean, Fenugreek, Gorse

CAUTION: Alfalfa / Lucerne, Birdsfoot Trefoil (prone to toxicity), Broad Bean (must be soaked and boiled), Chickpea / Garbanzo, Clover – Red, White, Alsike (should not dominate pasture), Common / Garden Vetch, Cowpea, Kidney Bean (must be soaked and boiled), Lentil Plant, Lespedeza / Bush Clover, Lima Bean (must be soaked and boiled), Pea, Perennial Peanut / Groundnut, Soybean, Sweet Clover (hay can be prone to mould), Wattles / Acacia – all (prone to toxicity). Legume hay is too high in protein but rationed amounts can be good for pregnant, growing or working donkeys.  

UNSAFE: Birdsville Indigo, Black Locust Tree, Bluebush Pea, Chillagoe horse poison, Coffee Senna, Common Laburnum / Golden Chain, Creeping Indigo, Crotalaria brevis, Crotalaria montana, Crown Vetch, Broom (all), Grey Rattlepod, Hairy Vetch, Honey / Thorny Locust, Honey Mesquite, Kimberly horse poison, Lupin / Lupine (all), Mapoon Bush, Milkvetch / Loco Weed, Montpellier Broom, Moreton Bay Chestnut / Black Bean, Narrowleaf Rattlepod, New Holland Rattlepod, Peacock Flower / Poinciana, Perennial / Everlasting Pea, Annual Peanut / Groundnut, Purple-flowered Rattlepod, Purple Vetch, Rattlebox, Rosary Pea / Crab’s Eye / Indian Licorice, Selenium Weed, Showy Rattlepod, Sicklepod, Sunhemp, Sweet Pea, Trefoil Rattlepod, Water / Swamp Locust, Wedge-leaf Rattlepod, Wisteria

Lily Family – Liliaceae

SAFE: Bride’s Bonnet / Queen’s Cup, Cat’s Ears, Clintonia / Blue-bead Lily, Globe Lily, Japanese Lily, Lily / Lilium, Mariposa Lily, Saint Bernard’s Lily / Bichetii Grass, Star Tulips, Tiger Lily, White Clintonia

UNSAFE: Climbing / Creeping / Fire Lily, Easter Lily, Tulip

Loosestrife Family – Lythraceae

SAFE: Crepe Myrtle / Crepeflower / Pomegranate

Magnolia Family – Magnoliaceae

SAFE: Star Magnolia, Tulip Tree / Poplar

Mahogany Family – Meliaceae

UNSAFE: Chinaberry / Pride of India / Bead-tree

Maidenhair Fern Family – Pteridaceae

UNSAFE: Rock / Mulga / Lip Fern (all)

Mallow Family – Malvaceae

SAFE: American Basswood / Linden, Big-leaved Lime Tree, Cocoa Tree, Common Linden / Lime Tree, Hollyhock, Marsh Mallow, Rose of Sharon / Hibiscus, Small-leaved Lime Tree

UNSAFE: Cotton, Small-flowered Mallow / Marshmallow / Cheeseweed 

Mint Family – Lamiaceae

SAFE: Chia, Horehound, Lavender, Scarlet / Texas Sage, Spurflowers, Summer Savoy

CAUTION: Basil (Ocimum basilicum) (contains eugenols, which are toxic in high concentrations), Lemon Balm, Balm Mint, Lavender, Mint, Oregano, Peppermint, Rosemary, Sage, Thyme (these are safe but not suitable for pregnant mares)

UNSAFE: Ground Ivy / Creeping Charlie, Indian Borage / Spanish Thyme

Moschatel Family – Adoxaceae

UNSAFE: Elder / Elderberry / Sambucus

Mulberry / Fig Family – Moraceae

SAFE: Mulberry

CAUTION: Fig / Common Fig (tree sap can cause skin irritation, unripe fruit contains latex)

UNSAFE: Ficus Tree / Weeping / Benjamin Fig

Myrtle Family – Myrtaceae

SAFE: Fuschia (all)

CAUTION: Bay Rum Tree / Ciliment / West Indian Bay Tree (Pimenta racemosa), Clove (Syzygium aromaticum), Jamaica pepper / New Spice / Allspice (Pimenta dioica) (contains eugenols, which can be toxic in high concentrations)

UNSAFE: Eucalyptus (highly toxic if ingested, essential oil used as a topical treatment in herbal remedies), Jambul / Java Plum

Nasturtium Family – Tropaeolaceae

SAFE: Indian / Monk’s Cress

Nephrolepis Family – Nephrolepidaceae

SAFE: Narrow-sword / Herringbone Fern, Sword Fern

Nettle Family – Urticaceae

SAFE: Aluminiu Plant / Watermelon Pilea, Artillery Plant / Rockweed, Baby’s Tears / Mother-of-thousands, Clearweed / Richweed, Creeping Charlie, Friendship Plant, Trailing Begonia

UNSAFE: Gympie Stinger, Nettles / Stinging Nettles (all)

Nightshade Family – Solanaceae

SAFE: Petunia

UNSAFE: Angel’s Trumpets (all), Black Nightshade / Garden Huckleberry, Brunfelsia / Franciscan Rain Tree / Morning-noon-and-night, Buffalo Burr / Spiny Nightshade, Corkwood (all), Day Jasmine, Deadly Nightshade / Belladonna, Devil’s Apple, Green cestrum, Jerusalem Cherry / Madeira Winter Cherry, Night Jasmine, Potato, Silverleaf Nightshade, Thornapples / Jimsonweed / Devil’s Snare (all), Tobacco / Nicotiana (all), Tomato (all), Woody Nightshade / Bittersweet / Bittersweet Nightshade / Blue Bindweed, Yellow Basswood

Nutmeg Family – Myristicaceae

SAFE: Fragrant / True Nutmeg

Oleaster Family – Elaeagnaceae

SAFE: Oleaster / Silverberry, Sea Buckthorn

Olive Family – Oleaceae

SAFE: Ash / English Ash, Forsythia, Jasmine (all), Lilac

UNSAFE: Olive / European Olive, Persian Lilac, Privet (all), Russian / Persian Olive

Orchid Family – Orchidaceae

SAFE: Crimson Cattleya / Ruby-lipped Cattley, Dancing-lady / Golden Shower Orchid, Easter Orchid, Fiery Reed Orchid, Forbes’ Cattleya, Ghost / White Frog Orchid, Greater Butterfly Orchid, Jewel Orchid, Leopard Orchid, Lily-of-the-valley Orchid, Masdevallia, May Flower / Christmas Orchid, Moth Orchid, Sophronitis, Tampa Butterfly Orchid

Palm Family – Arecaceae

SAFE: Areca Palm, Chusan Palm, Coconut, Curly Palm, Dwarf Date Palm, Kentia Palm, Lady Palm, Majesty Palm, Sabal Palm / Palmetto

Peony Family – Paeniaceae

UNSAFE: Peony / Common Peony

Pepper Family – Piperaceae

SAFE: American Rubber Plant / Pepper Face, Emerald Ripple Peperomia, Radiator Plant, Watermelon Begonia / Peperomia

Phlox Family – Polemoniaceae

SAFE: Creeping / Moss Phlox, Jacob’s Ladder / Greek Valerian

Pickerel-weed Family – Pontederiaceae

SAFE: Water / Common Water Hyacinth

Pine Family – Pinaceae

SAFE: Carolina Hemlock, Eastern / Canadian Hemlock, Hemlock / Tsuga

UNSAFE: Western Yellow Pine / Bull Pine

Pineapple Family – Bromeliaceae

SAFE: Aregelia (all), Fingernail Plant, Pineapple, Scarlet Star

Pitcher Plant Family – Sarraceniaceae

SAFE: Cobra Lily / California Pitcher Plant

Pittosporum Family – Pittosporaceae

SAFE: Australian Laurel / Mock Orange

Plantain FamilyPlantaginaceae

SAFE: Broadleaf Plantain, Coliseum / Kenilworth Ivy, English / Narrowleaf Plantain, Mexican Twist / Creeping Gloxinia, Sierra / Withered Snapdragon, Snapdragon, American Sycamore / Planetree

UNSAFE: Common / Purple Foxglove, Mare’s Tail

Pokeweed Family – Phytolaccaceae

UNSAFE: Pokeweed

Primrose Family – Primulaceae

UNSAFE: Cyclamen, Primrose / English Primrose

Protea Family – Proteaceae

UNSAFE: Macadamia

Purslane Family – Portulacaceae

UNSAFE: Common Purslane / Verdolaga / Rock Moss

Rose Family – Rosaceae

SAFE: Apple, Black Hawthorn, Blackberry, Blackthorn, Chokeberry, Cinquefoil, Dog-rose, Grapefruit, Hawthorn / May-tree / Haw-berry, Midland / English Hawthorn, Loganberry, Meadowsweet, Mountain Ash / Rowan, Pear, Quickthorn, Raspberry, Rose, Rugosa Rose, Salad Burnet, Strawberry, Strawberry leaf / Creeping Raspberry, Sweet Briar Rose

UNSAFE: Almond, Apricot, Black Cherry, Cherry / Wild Cherry / Sweet Cherry, Cherry / Common / English Laurel, Chokecherry / Bitter-berry, Damson, Greengage, Peach, Plum, Nectarine

Sago Palm Family – Zamiaceae

UNSAFE: Cardboard Palm / Cardboard Cycad, Coontie Plant

Sandalwood Family – Sapindaceae

UNSAFE: Mistletoe

Saxifrage Family – Saxifragaceae

SAFE: Alumroot / Coral Bells

Sesame Family – Pedaliaceae

SAFE: Sesame, Devil’s Claw

Snowbell / Styrax Family – Styrnaceae

SAFE: Carolina / Little Silverbell

Soapberry Family – Sapindaceae

SAFE: Field / Common Maple, Norway Maple

UNSAFE: Boxelder Maple, Horse Chestnut / Buckeye, Lychee, Red Maple, Silver Maple, Sugar Maple, Sycamore Maple

Spikemoss Family – Selaginellaceae

SAFE: Krauss’ Spikemoss / Krauss’ Clubmoss, Spikemoss / Lesser clubmoss

Spurge Family – Euphorbiaceae

SAFE: Chenille Plant / Fox Tail, Copperleaf

UNSAFE: African Wonder Tree / Casterbean / Caster-oil-plant, False Caper, Leafy Spurge (all), Petty Spurge, Naked Lady / Pencil Cactus, Jatropha / Physic nut (all), Poinsietta

St John’s-Wort Family – Hypericaceae

CAUTION: St John’s-Wort (most toxic during rapid growth in spring until end of flowering, grazing infested pastures / consuming large quantities can cause photosensitisation, small amounts used safely in herbal remedies)

Star-vine Family – Schisandraceae

SAFE: Star Anise / Chinese Star Anise / Badiam

UNSAFE: Japanese Star Anise / Aniseed Tree

Stone Plants – Aizoaceae

SAFE: Stone Plants / Carpet Weeds (Sea Fig, Peach Apple, Ice Plant)

Stonecrop / Orpine Family – Crassulaceae

SAFE: Copper Rose / Painted Lady, Donkey’s / Burro’s Tail, Echevaria, Mexican Firecracker, Mexican Snowball / White Mexican Rose, Mother-of-pearl Plant / Ghost Plant

Sundew Family – Droseraceae

SAFE: Venus Fly Trap

Sword Fern Family – Nephrolepidaceae

SAFE: Narrow Sword Fern / Herringbone Fern, Western Sword Fern

Tea Family – Theaceae

SAFE: Common / Japanese Camellia, Mountain Camellia

Verbena Family – Verbenaceae

UNSAFE: Lemon Verbena / Beebrush, Wild Sage

Walnut Family – Juglandaceae

SAFE: Bitter Pecan / Water Hickory, Bitternut / Pignut / Swamp Hickory, Mockernut / White Hickory, Pecan, Shellbark / Shagbark Hickory

CAUTION: Walnut / English / Common Walnut (lower levels of juglone than the highly toxic Black Walnut but potential for poisoning not clear)

UNSAFE: Black Walnut

Water-Clover Family – Marsileaceae

UNSAFE: Nardoo

Willow Family – Sapindaceae

SAFE: Poplar / Aspen / Cottonwood, Purple Willow / Purple Osier, Willow (limited quantities)

Willowherb / Evening Primrose Family – Onagraceae

SAFE: Fireweed / Great Willowherb, Honeysuckle Fuscia

Wood Fern Family – Dryopteridaceae

SAFE: Christmas Fern, Fern Holly / Japanese Holly

Yam Family – Dioscoreaceae

UNSAFE: Black Byrony

Yellow-wood Family – Podocarpaceae

UNSAFE: Yew / Buddhist Pine

Yew Family – Taxaceae

UNSAFE: English / European Yew, Yew / Japanese Yew, American / Canadian Yew


Annual Ryegrass is prone to corynetoxins produced by the bacterium Rathayibacter toxicus. Symptoms of poisoning from infected grass or hay include tremors, weakness and drooling. It can be fatal. Infected grass may look normal, or there may be an orange-yellow secretion on the seed heads. Seed heads may also be twisted or deformed.

Corynetoxins have been known to affect Annual Ryegrass, Blown-grass and Annual Beard-grass. If you have these grasses on your farm and they are prone to infection you should consult your local agronomist for advice on an integrated pasture management plan.

Bran is not suitable feed for donkeys as it is high in phosphorus levels and can lead to the depletion of calcium levels.

Cereal grain feeds can be prone to infection by the Aspergillus fungus, which can lead to aflatoxicosis if consumed in large quantities. Always buy feed from a reputable distributor and store it in cool, dry conditions. Cereal grasses used in pasture should not be allowed to go to seed. Hay and straw should be grain-free.

Clovers along with Alfalfa, Lespedezia, Soybean and Lupins have been known to be infected with the Rhizoctonia leguminicola fungus, which can cause Slaframine poisoning if consumed in large quantities. A rust colour on the upper side of the leaf indicates presence of the fungus. Symptoms of poisoning include excessive salivation.

Brown blotch disease, identified by brown spots on the underside of the leaves, has also been known to affect some clovers. Consumption of affected clover in large quantities can cause liver damage.

Corn ear and stalk can contain harmful substances and the cobs are high in starch, difficult to digest and can cause choking.

Endophytes are bacteria or fungi that can grow on plants, including grasses and cereal grains. They improve plant growth and tolerance to drought but they can also produce harmful mycotoxins, such as ergot alkaloids, particularly in certain conditions.

Ergot Alkaloids are most common in Perennial Ryegrass although they can occur in Paspalum, Phalaris, Triticale, Brome, Couch Grass, Crested Wheatgrass, Feather Grass, Fescue, Foxtail Grass, Orchard Grass, Red Top, Timothy, Wheat, Barley, Oat and wild grasses.

Symptoms of Ergot Alkaloid Toxicosis (Ergotism) include lameness, tremors, loss of coordination and gangrene. In rare cases it can be fatal. Grass infected with ergot can be identified by the presence of long black or purple structures where the seeds should be. Pregnant mares and foals are especially susceptible to ergot alkaloids.

Fescue is prone to toxicity when infected with the Acremonium coenophialum endophyte, which is not visually identifiable. It is particularly detrimental to pregnant mares and young foals.

Regular testing is advised. If your pasture is dominated by endophyte-infected grass, you may need to consult a local agronomist for advice on pasture management.

Fruit is high in sugar so should only ever be fed occasionally and in small quantities. It’s advisable to fence off trees bearing fruit and nuts, as eating too much can cause colic.

Grain Legumes and Pulses such as Broad Beans, Chickpeas, Lima Beans and Red Kidney Beans contain lectins and other harmful substances. They should not be fed raw. Crushing and soaking in boiling water for 2 hours is advised. They are also high in protein so should only ever be fed occasionally and in small quantities.

Grass containing high concentrations of non-structural carbohydrates (NSC) can be unsafe for donkeys. Levels of NSC are highest when the grass has gone to seed, when there are large amounts of weeds, when grass is stressed due to drought conditions or cold nights below 40°F. Dead or dying pasture will also have high NSC levels.

Mushrooms are not safe for donkeys.

Nuts and Seeds are high in protein and fat so should be given in small quantities as an occasional treat or not at all and should be unsalted and unflavoured.

Oxalate Grasses contain chemicals, known as soluble oxalates, which can lead to the depletion of calcium levels in the body. Oxalate grasses include Brachiaria (Signal grass), Buffel, Guinea, Kikuyu, Pangola, Para and Setaria grasses.

Symptoms of chronic oxalate-related poisoning include colic, diarrhoea, lameness and swelling of the head (Nutritional Secondary Hyperparathyroidism or Big Head syndrome).

If your pasture is dominated by these grasses, grazing for long periods is not advisable and calcium and phosphorus supplements may be required. Professional advice should be sought.

Poisonous Plants often don’t appeal to donkeys and in most cases they will only resort to eating them if there is little else available, or if they are bored. Providing the right diet along with enrichment in the form of safe shrubs, herb patches and cut branches, will help.

Awareness of toxic and potentially toxic plants, good pasture management and food storage, watching out for symptoms, buying forage and seed from a reputable distributor and regular testing will further reduce the risk of poisoning.

Ragwort is highly toxic and needs to be completely removed. Click here for guidance on identifying and controlling Ragwort.

Safe Trees are safest in limited quantities. Overeating bark, twigs or leaves can lead to colic.

Vegetables are often high in sugar so should only be fed occasionally and in small quantities. Cutting into chunks or sticks may reduce the risk of choking.

Veterinary care should be sought immediately if you suspect poisoning of any kind, colic or any signs of ill health in your donkey.


Safe Trees and Shrubs for Donkeys The Donkey Sanctuary UK

Poisonous Plants and Trees The Donkey Sanctuary UK

Plants Poisonous to Horses: An Australian Field Guide Mellisa Offord

Which Grass is Best for Horses and What to Avoid

Is Pasture Grass Safe? Pro Equine Grooms

Ergot Intoxication in Perennial Ryegrass National Center for Biotechnology Information

Database of Toxic Plants in the United States University of Idaho

Fescue Poisoning Veterinary Manual

Information on controlling Ergot Toxicity in Cereals Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board

Producers finding ergot in cereal crops, grasses due to wet spring The Prairie Star

Molds and Mycotoxins in Horse Feed The

Please note: Plant safety depends on numerous factors, which need to be taken into account by individual owners. Donkey Wise cannot accept any responsibility for feeding or care. If you are unsure about the safety of plants, pasture or feed, or the best diet for your donkey, you should seek professional advice. Always consult a qualified veterinarian if you suspect poisoning of any kind.    

Copyright 2017 Amy Swift

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